Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.45) Fleetwood at home

Article by Paul Beasley

Oxford United 0 Fleetwood Town 1

Pre-match thinking

Having finished 4th last season and seemingly having strengthened for this campaign, I mistakenly thought from the odds available back in August that they were a very good bet for promotion.

That’s not how it played out. On January 13 they were 11th – one place below us. Five weeks later on February 20th they’d slipped to 20th with just 36 points. We were slipping too, although not quite as alarmingly; at the time we were 15th with 41 points. I don’t need to point out which team has made a better fist of turning things around. Since then we’ve only won six more points.

Like us Fleetwood dispensed with their manager. Out went Uwe Rosler in mid-February to be replaced five days later by John Sheridan. No hanging about here to get the right man. Sheridan’s record in the short time he’s been there boasts a win percentage much higher than any he’s achieved at any of his previous clubs.

The Cod Army were beaten in each of Rosler’s last six games in charge. Sheridan turned it around immediately with three draws followed by four wins. That run was only halted in the game prior to this one, by a 3-2 reversal at Rotherham who are in with a very good shout for a play-off place.

So form obviously favoured them even though the bookies made us favourites. That caused some head scratching.

Also there’s this bogey team thing. We’ve never beaten Fleetwood.

Oh, and the ex-player coming back to haunt you theory too.

All in all then, we had little chance but whilst current form will always give concern, that’s not quite how I felt beforehand.

We had managed not to lose in the last three home games and the defence no longer looked all over the place with Rob Dickie playing a leading role in this steady improvement.

Furthermore what logic is there behind any bogey team nonsense? Our first ever game against Fleetwood was on 26 January 2013. We lost 3-0 in Lancashire. (Wayne Brown was in goal. For those who were there that memory will bring on nightmares). All who wore an Oxford shirt that day, other than Brown who didn’t play any games beyond that season, are long gone. The same can be said about the Fleetwood side. Two entirely different teams so why a bogey? Does the very name Fleetwood Town FC frighten us so?

(NB: I don’t consider Nathan Pond to be human, so he has to be considered so exceptional it would be unfair to use him as evidence against the argument I’ve just put forward. He played for the club way back in 1908 in a previous incarnation and is destined to be on the playing staff for ever more. Incredibly he’s still only 33 years old. A real life Roy of the Rovers but without quite the same fantastical achievements on the pitch.)

And Conor McAleny, pah! Before he returned to the Kasstad he’d only scored four league goals this campaign and had a worse return of goals per minute on the pitch than Jon Obika. Yes, seriously.

The match

Football can be a cruel game. A very cruel game, as it was here for anyone connected with Oxford United Football club. The walk back to the car down Grenoble Road was undertaken in almost complete silence. There was very little speech from any group of fans we overtook or who overtook us. It was all a bit zombie like.

Having had the bulk of the play, having created the most chances, having not conceded in regulation time how can it be possible that we end up losing in stoppage time to a goal from McAleny?  Yes, okay it had to be him. I was wrong.

Sometimes your team is on the receiving end and at other times it is your team dishing out the pain.

It is very easy to believe that if we play with similar spirit between now and the end of the season we will without doubt stay up. In a way we would deserve to but it is not as simple as that and for all the good stuff we produced here it doesn’t take a genius to work out why we lost and why we could lose every remaining game.

We’ve stopped scoring goals or when we do they are an isolated event. The best a team that doesn’t score can hope for is a draw. And a bit of no shit Sherlock next – to achieve a draw a team that doesn’t score has to keep a clean sheet. For all our defensive improvement our rear guard has hardly turned into Fort Knox. We’ve got a mistake in us and that’s without getting me started on John Mousinho.

We probably played better here than we did against Oldham and I wouldn’t rate Fleetwood higher than the Latics on what I witnessed in both games. Football though is not, thankfully, always explainable.

We moved the ball around quicker than we have done recently and our passing, for the most part, had greater accuracy. This obviously meant we didn’t give the ball away that often. Furthermore our closing down was much improved with shifts being put in and Fleetwood were not allowed to establish any rhythm. I was really surprised to see the BBC stats giving our visitors 51% of the possession.

Simon Eastwood dives to save #1

Simon Eastwood. Photo, Steve Daniels

Other stats I can see more credibility in. Shots 21-10 in our favour. But shots on target 6-4 in their favour. Simon Eastwood had to work just as hard to protect his goal as Alex Cairns did at the other end. This points us to the heart of a massive problem. Our shooting is poor. Our finishing is poor. At least we created chances but that ball has to be put in the back of that net otherwise what’s the point, other than making sure your opponents aren’t putting it in yours?

We have strikers that do not appear to be up to the task. (Is that a bit more of Sherlock?) This is how I saw it.

Agon Mehmeti – nowhere near English league standard. His control was abysmal. The ball either pinged 10 yards or more off him and was lost, or up above his head, meaning by the time it had come back down he had a red shirt on him and was unable to do anything useful. On the plus side he did run around quite a bit and also helped set up a chance right at the outset of the second half with a header to Wes Thomas who subsequently found Joe Rothwell. Oh, and Karl Robinson thought he had a good game. That is not something I can agree with.

Jon Obika – exactly what I’ve come to expect. He doesn’t read the game. He doesn’t seem to get very physically involved and doesn’t look a goal threat.

Wes Thomas – I’m much more of a fan of his than many of our supporters but will concede that he produced a couple of touches that had him in the Mehmeti class. The better things he did though far outweighed this. There was a time or two when he seemed to have mis-controlled but somehow kept possession and, kicking towards the East stand, forced a very good low save to his right from the Fleetwood stopper.

GVK had no time to be a hero.

At the other end of the pitch I’ve just about had enough of John Mousinho as a defender. Twice he massively ballsed up and we were lucky not to be punished. When he brings the ball out from the back, gliding past players, it is elegant. He does tend to lose possession at least once every match when attempting this Beckenbauer stuff. In a relegation dog fight elegance is way down the list of required qualities. Although he does win quite a bit in the air he’s not the most robust of centre-halves and also about once a game when he does actually attempt to clear he doesn’t make proper contact with danger resulting.

So what to do? Leave him where he is? Move him to midfield? Drop him completely?

Whatever his faults may be he does bring something to the team playing at the back. And it’s not just the jitters to his teammates. Forming partnerships takes time so if someone else were to come in alongside Dickie who’s to say if any new pairing would be more reliable? Perhaps Aaron Martin deserves a game and a fully fit and back on it Curtin Nelson should walk into this side.

If Mous was to be played further forward in midfield who would he replace because no-one played badly enough in that department to be dropped?

I can sit here and ponder all I like. KR has to do it for real.

When the goal came though we were just undone and it wasn’t our captain’s fault. Jack Sowerby had the freedom of the park when he received the ball. His second touch moved the ball on to McAleny who was equally unattended. After a little jink inside he bent a beauty past Eastwood from just outside the box. That was finishing of a class we can only now dream of.

Whilst Fleetwood had not planned it that way, having appeared very happy with a draw, they were obviously on the lookout for a breakaway goal should the opportunity arise. And when we basically said here you are here’s your opportunity, off they went.

Todd Kane had seen a phenomenal amount of the ball from an attacking perspective as we took the game to Fleetwood and didn’t do too badly in this regard although many times was unable to get the ball in the box, hitting the defender instead. But for the goal he was awol from his defending duties.

Worth a mention of the other full-back here. Given our lack of pure creativity in midfield, the way our Brazilian plays attacking wise is a delightful breath of fresh air. Tim who sits in front of me keeps making the very good point of how come he lost his place to Ashley Smith-Brown? That decision did us no favours.

Ricardinho plays the ball past Kyle Dempsey

Ricardinho going past Kyle Dempsey. Photo, Steve Daniels

If our efforts of going for it at the very end had paid off and it had been us scoring the winner, the praise heaped on the team and manager would have been immense, and rightly so. I cannot help but think though that a more pragmatic approach was called for and I’m not just saying that in hindsight. Try and win the game yes, but don’t throw quite so many men so far forward would have been my instructions from the touch line. A draw would have been a bit of a disappointment but not a total calamity.

One final subject for discussion has to once more be the referee. More often than not they have a hugely questionable influence on the course a game takes. This was just Brendan Malone’s 6th game of the season and only his second at L1 level. I thought he was slow at getting about the field and that may have been down to a lack of fitness. He is by the way from Wiltshire.

He refused to give us a penalty when Dickie was held back from making a run at a late second half corner in the most blatant of fashions possible. Only one card was brandished, a yellow for Ashley Hunter. The incident was at the far side of the field but if the colour had been different I don’t think there could have been complaints because the challenge had an element of assault attached to it. There was a corner not given after we all (except my son) thought Cairns had produced another top save.

Post-match thinking

If the pressure wasn’t bad enough already it has been racked up another notch for Saturday’s visit of Southend and this may only be the start.

Bury can’t catch us. Even if Northampton win every game left and we lose all ours (yes that is possible) they can still only get six more points than our current total so that’s unlikely to happen.

MK Dons are five behind us.

Then it gets very scary.

Wimbledon’s win over Charlton puts them just a point behind us having played the same number of games.

Oldham and Walsall, who are playing as I finish this piece, both have it in their power to overtake us.

Of the others down there Rochdale were thankfully well turned over by Wigan as we were getting mugged by Fleetwood. They’re on the same points as MK but have a game in hand and are still to come to Oxford. They’ve been playing well recently and are a big threat.

It’s almost unbearable but bear it we have to and as we will again in a few days’ time. The crowd were something very special on the night. So many stayed at the end and applauded the team off despite the horror of the last minute reversal. They knew that the endeavour and spirit was there and that it would be hurting the players as much as the fans. More of the same is needed again (and again and again) not this continuous effing negativity that a handful spout.

P1070384

 

Taken a minute before kick-off. I wasn’t expecting many but this has to be close to the all time lowest ever number of visiting supporters even including the Conference times. They had the last laugh though.

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